Transcendental Gastronomy

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The holiday season is nearly upon us: Thanksgiving, soon to be followed by Christmas. Times of merriment, good fellowship, and banqueting—and times, for many evangelicals, of guilt-ridden, conscience-striken breast-beating. How can we kill the fatted calf (even if we can still afford the inflationary beast) when others less fortunate do not have one? Should we not instead try to get by on the barest minimum, in protest against the consumer society and its values? One West Coast evangelical couple has recently written in behalf of “Christian poverty,” describing the humble, sanctified growing of their own vegetables (and their own attempt at making toothpaste, which, however, proved abrasive to the teeth).

Ambivalently torn by competing values, evangelicals realize dimly that they cannot reject the season’s festal board without contributing to the demise of holidays that are essentially or should be holy days; yet their Protestant work ethic and a somber strain of pietism cast a dark cloud of self-doubt over the candlelit table.

Last week, on November 13, in Paris, I had the temerity to accept the invitation of the French Gastronomical Academy to become one of its fifty living academicians, to occupy the chair named for Bertrand Guégan, the translator of Apicius and author of several classic works on cuisine. During the summer, I conducted two seminars on gastronomy in Strasbourg for the benefit of overflow audiences concerned with the significance of cuisine. Another sign of my hopelessly unsanctified state? Possibly, but bear with me; even Balaam’s ass—an eater of straw—had something to say.

I am convinced that evangelicals (whom some clever critic has called “the monks of Protestantism”) have so allowed their negative attitude ...

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